"The soul of Jonathan was knit
to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul." 1 Samuel 18:1
God is a God of relationship--among the Trinity, between Himself and humankind--so it makes sense that relationships between people would be a matter of import to Him, especially considering the fact that He designed
we humans with a need to be in relationship with Him and others. I have been blessed with many deep and lasting relationships comprised of both family members and friends. Each relationship carries a unique flavor, enriching my life, giving it more complexity and depth. I recognize these relationships as gifts from the Lord, each one divinely ordained and valuable. I would not be the person I am today without them. These precious people have all become a part of me, and I would like to think that I have become a part of them.
When I allow someone in my life, I give my heart away. Therefore, I am never haphazard about my relationships. I take my time in selecting my friends. I observe. I study. And when I commit, I do so with long-term intent. I can't love without loving wholly. When a person loves like that, it is dangerous for her to enter into short-term relationships because she usually ends up hurt or broken--sometimes irreparably--which is why I wasn't much of a dater in high school. I have been hurt. I have been broken. I don't like pain, so the self-preservation instinct within has taught me to only invest in "safe" relationships.
The problem with that way of thinking, of course, is that no relationship is safe because LOVE is not safe. Love--real
love--is wild. Love is free. Love does not play by the rules. Love is exquisite, and love is painful. Love requires sacrifice. Love is the reason for the cross of Jesus Christ, after all, and nothing
about the cross was safe. Safety in relationships is an illusion, but it is one that I have subconsciously believed. That belief is expressed in the fact that I rarely invest in people for the moment
, and when I do, I don't share anything with them that I would miss. It costs me nothing to share a smile or a simple service, but God forbid I that bare my soul to anyone that won't be my friend for the next 30 years.
While this is normal behavior in our culture, I don't think it is Christ-centered behavior. Christ "poured out His soul unto death" (Isaiah 53:12). I'm fairly certain we are called to at least pour out our souls unto possible pain. The Lord began convicting my heart of its selfishness a few months ago, and put His work to the test on a Sunday morning in late August.
I was having a rough morning, but I needed to get out of the house, and wanted to attend church. I was not surprised or overly-dismayed when Sara began competing for attention with the speaker, prompting me to scoop her up and leave the auditorium. I decided that I would enjoy my daughter in the sunny foyer, and be happy to be out of the house.
And then, kismet happened.
A young mother with a baby born a few weeks after Sara stepped into the foyer, sat down across from me, and with a sweet grin, she cheerily stated, "I guess this is where the loud ones sit." I smiled, and replied with something forgettable.
Common ground could not be ignored as we sat across from one another with baby girls close to the same age. We small-talked. I noticed she offered a good bit of personal information about herself upon the first meeting. The information had a refreshingly honest quality about it. She crossed over, sitting beside me, commenting that she wanted to see me better as she was not wearing her glasses. I would never
have been so forward with a stranger, but I was not threatened at all by her. I liked her and her honesty and her disregard for Ruston social protocol.
I allowed myself to notice things about her--the color of her eyes, the color of her child's eyes, the small freckles on her skin, the way her nose wrinkled when she laughed. And then kismet struck again.
My friend, Ellie, whom I hadn't seen in several weeks walked up, and engaged me in conversation. The girl returned to the couch across from me, allowing us to talk. Ellie asked about our progress in the move, and about my health. I answered honestly, not fretting over giving out personal information in the presence of a stranger. When Ellie walked away, the girl asked me straightforwardly about what I had said. I can't remember the exact wording of her question, but it was worded in such a way that I knew she was asking because she wanted to know
. (Many people ask how a person is doing, but they don't really want to hear anything more complicated than a "fine." I mention that little tidbit without judgement because I have certainly been among that lot in the past.) I looked at her, gulping down my instinct to white-wash my suffering that I might prevent myself from treading on the minefield of soul-baring, and gave a synopsis of what I had been through in the previous four months.
As I talked, I measured the interest in her eyes so that I would know how much to tell. She stayed with me, so I did a pretty good job of telling enough without telling too much. When I was finished, I saw something strange in her posture which I now recognize as the weight of compassion. The observant eye will notice that when a person feels compassion for another, the shoulders sag, the head bows, the brow furrows, the lips purse, and the eyes squint as if the sufferer's pain was their own. Here's the thing about compassion--it is only bred through suffering of your own. So, when she launched into her own tale--a tale about how she found out three days after birthing the baby I saw in her arms that she had advanced cancer of the esophagus and liver and was in the hospital for a month after the birth of her baby girl rather than getting to go home and be that baby's mother--I wasn't shocked, only horrified.
After exchanging stories about our personal road trips to hell and back, we shared with one another how we managed to get through it. Our identical answers gave us more common ground upon which to stand. We agreed that only Jesus Christ and His love, mercy and grace could have provided the light needed to walk such dark, treacherous paths.
And then I did something I never do--I wept without reserve in the presence of a person whose name I did not yet know. And she wept with me. The tears shed were not only for our own pain, but for the pain of the other. We did not KNOW each other!
I found an unexpected emotion in my heart as I heard the service closing inside the sanctuary. Love. I never love so easily, so freely, but I knew the events of that morning had nothing to do with my comfort zone or selfish tendencies. I had been seeking the Lord, so I was able to acknowledge that the two of us were being offered a gift, a gift that shouldn't have even been a possibility.
I finally learned that her name was Jenny. Jenny was from Houston, and was at church with her in-laws because she and her husband were in town visiting. I learned that she almost did not go to church that morning because she was still feeling fatigued and unwell from recent chemotherapy, which had been very aggressive. We never would have met one another if our girls hadn't forced us out of the service. I never
would have shared my story had Ellie not asked me about my health, leading Jenny to ask a direct question which brought forth a true and thorough response from me. As awful of a truth this is to reveal, I feel it should be said--left to myself, I never would have chosen
a friend who was in the midst of a battle with cancer. I never would set myself up for that level of possible heartache. The friendly attraction I felt with her spirit was not a natural byproduct of my disposition. Clearly, something larger than either of us was at work, and had brought us together. I asked for her number, promising I would text her. I was taking a real risk because I didn't know if she would be as interested in friendship with me.
I texted her as we left the parking lot of the church that morning. Her response was quick, not giving me long to worry about whether or not I had freaked her out. And we have been blowing up each other's phones ever since. We have sent prayers, encouragement, and favorite Bible verses. We have shared several phone conversations, none of which manage to be long enough for our liking due to the nature of our lives. We have exchanged care packages containing favorite music and notes. And I have already been to her and her husband's home in Houston. I even let her cook for me, which is not something I allow anyone to do for me anymore. She didn't think me strange when I brought my own salt, and I was perfectly healthy when I left her home for our concert.
We've been friends for only 8 or 9 weeks now, but I'm fairly certain she would agree with me when I say that we love each other like sisters. As He did hundreds of years ago with Jonathan and David, the Lord has knit our souls together for a beautiful and very unique friendship. We would so like to be physically present for one another, but that is not what God had in mind when He planned our relationship. We are purposed to be spiritually
present for one another. She cannot travel to my home, and care for me as she would wish. I could not attend her appointment last Tuesday as I would have liked. I would have if I could have so that I would have been there when they told her that her liver tumors had grown, that she now has Stage 4 liver cancer and that she would have to begin chemotherapy again this Monday. I couldn't be there any more than she can be here, but I can
grieve with her, cry with her, pray with her, encourage her, route her on, rally her up, and help her to face this absolute monster
of a thing currently blocking her passage to the life she would like to live. God gave us the gift of this friendship, so it is within His rights to shape it as He wishes. We will rest ourselves in His good design.
Jenny is precious to me. Will you please pray for her as she begins chemo on Monday? This stuff is ROUGH. She needs strength, hope, and faith to face the challenges ahead. She needs the cross to be the blazing center of her vision if she is to run this race with endurance. Will you pray for her husband, her soon-to-be five-year-old son, and her nine-month-old daughter? Will you pray that all of their needs are met according to the riches in Christ Jesus?
As I have requested prayer for Jenny from individuals, I have been asked more than once if I believe that Jenny will live. The answer is that I absolutely do. I believe that she is going to live as much as I believe that I'm
going to live. I believe that it's going to be hard. The circumstances are very bleak. But I believe in the deepest recesses of my heart that the Lord is going to bring her through
the cancer, and give her enough time to see her kids grow up. I am no optimist, nor am I naive. This isn't me employing the power of positive thinking, hoping that somehow I can twist God's arm into doing what I want Him to do. My belief that she is going to live is something else entirely. I have believed that she will live for several weeks now, but on Wednesday morning, the day after I heard her heartbreaking news, I was led to Psalm 118 where I found this verse--
"I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord."--verse 17
I read those words like a promise. For Jenny. For me. We are going to live through our dangers, and when they are over, we are going to throw huge parties. I am certain that I will attend her party and that she will attend mine. At those parties, we are going to lift high the name of Jesus Christ who is carrying us through our thorny paths! And after those parties, I plan to whisk her and our families away to The Island
with my dear friends, the Dorey's, and spend a week in the closest place to Heaven I have visited on this earth, where we will stay up late eating good food, drinking Kurt Pendergrass's homemade vanilla lattes and talking about the healing power and awesome goodness of our God!
Just so you know, Jenny's attitude about all of this is reflected in something she said on the day that I met her--"I would love to be a healing story, a story that displays the Lord's healing power, but I know that not everyone gets that story. I have already gotten a miracle in being healed of my esophageal cancer. I may not get another. Either way, I trust Him."
Let us pray that her trust remains firm, and let us pray that she gets that second miracle.